Royal Opera chairman bought the Hockney, then loaned it back

Royal Opera chairman bought the Hockney, then loaned it back


norman lebrecht

November 21, 2020

It has been disclosed that the winning bidder for David Hockney’s portrait of David Webster is a third David…  David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse and the recently appointed chair of the Royal Opera House board of trustees.

There was considerable outrage when the painting of the ROH’s founding general manager was put up for sale.

Ross is said to have put in a last-minute phone bid for the painting, apparently to stop it leaving the country.

All’s well that ends well?



  • AngloGerman says:

    ‘considerable outrage’ is not the right term for a frankly poorly argued viewpoint written by yourself.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    There was no “considerable outrage” at all re: the sale of this terrible painting, except in Norman’s imagination.
    As to the item itself: the colors are terrible, the composition is that of a grade-schooler, and there is no sign of life whatsoever in the subject.
    I can’t imagine David Webster was as much of an embalmed corpse (at least at the time of the portrait sitting) as this painting represents him to have been.
    Bottom line: it’s fish wrap.

    • Marfisa says:

      Stick to the day job, Greg. Art criticism isn’t your forte.

      • Greg Bottini says:

        Why don’t you just leave me alone, Marfisa?
        Go bug somebody else. I am tired of you.

      • Marfisa says:

        Sorry, Greg, that was cheap. But you made me take a more careful look at a bigger image ( and I really can’t see the faults you find in it. Apart from the perfect balance and the brilliant use of color, it has many layers of meaning. The furniture is ultra-modern, elegant and plain, but the tulips suggest the flamboyance and glamor of opera, and also its expensive luxury and long history (and in addition, the vase has what appears to be a ring of fire around the bottom). Tulips were the divas of the flower world, they were exotic imports to Europe in the seventeenth century, when the bulbs were worth far more than their weight in gold; and they feature often in still lives of the Dutch masters – Hockney recalls this tradition in the meticulous leaf and petal detail. Webster is gazing intently, not directly at the tulips, but just above and beyond, almost as if watching and listening to a performance. (I am not an art critic – but here is a professional assessment:

    • David says:

      I have known this painting for decades and always liked it. But of course you know best.

  • erich says:

    Excellent. He has put his money where his mouth is and thereby has justified his Chairman’s role. That’s what American boards also expect from their members, but it’s more unusual in the UK (although la Duffield did in earlier years).

  • Nick2 says:

    A lovely gesture. Well done, Mr. Ross.

  • Maria says:

    There was quite an outrage in principled West Yorkshire that such a gift from its revered artist should be flogged off. Hockney’s style may not be everybody’s cup of tea but it was considered an insult to an originally local artist who went on to do great things but never forgot where he came from. I am personally pleased that the painting is staying where it is. It was a generous gift to ROH and it suits the building and hung well.

  • Dander says:

    I have loads of pictures of swimming pools.